“Everyone has the right to a nationality”

Fresh opportunities to tackle statelessness through a new Council of Europe led initiative

16 January 2020 | Chris Nash – Director, European Network on Statelessness

We start 2020 facing uncertainty in many parts of the globe. One source of uncertainty for us here in Europe, is the UK’s imminent departure from the European Union on 31 January. It’s too early to say if Brexit will accelerate unilateralist trends and seemingly ever-greater fragmentation at a global level. Or indeed, how such trends may impact on human rights, including those of stateless people. But, for our part, as a civil society alliance with member organisations in 41 European countries, we remain firmly committed to advocating for pan-regional solutions to shared issues of concern, and to constructively engaging with different regional institutions and multilateral frameworks to hold governments to account on their international obligations towards stateless people.

New Council of Europe initiative to tackle statelessness

Against this backdrop, one recent positive development has been our concerted engagement with the Council of Europe’s European Committee on Legal Co-Operation (CDCJ) on an initiative to improve the identification and protection of stateless people. At a meeting in June last year, a CDCJ working group reviewed how Member States determine the nationality of people (particularly children) on the move and resolve cases of statelessness. Importantly, the meeting also identified gaps, new challenges and practical difficulties encountered by both national authorities and stateless people themselves, as well as possible activities that could be carried out by the CDCJ in 2019-2020 to address these.

We provided expert input at the meeting, along with other key stakeholders including UNHCR, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, and the European Migration Network. We used the opportunity to showcase our Statelessness Index, as an invaluable tool to support the CDCJ initiative.


ENS Director, Chris Nash, and Head of Policy & Research, Nina Murray, attended this CDCJ ad-hoc meeting on statelessness, 10-12 June 2019, Strasbourg

At the end of last year, the CDCJ adopted a report from the meeting (analysis of current practices and challenges regarding the avoidance and reduction of statelessness in Europe), and confirmed follow-up activities to be carried out over the next two years. These include an international conference on statelessness (pencilled in for Autumn 2020) and a series of focused, technical meetings. The report provides a comprehensive overview of statelessness in Europe, containing several useful recommendations, including that Member States introduce or improve statelessness determination procedures, and that the ENS Statelessness Index, the GLOBALCIT database and the EMN Statelessness Platform are used to their full potential by States as tools to support and build their capacity in this area. The report also explicitly recognises that not only is the ENS Statelessness Index an important tool for lawyers and NGOs but ‘ …also for government officials looking for good practices when drafting new legislation … [and] for international organisations working on standard-setting, including the Council of Europe’.

Engagement with the Council of Europe’s Action Plan on Protecting Refugee and Migrant Children

Part of the genesis for the CDCJ’s work on statelessness can be traced back to our #StatelessKids campaign, which helped pave the way for the inclusion of an action on ensuring every child’s right to a nationality in the Council of Europe’s Action Plan on Protecting Refugee and Migrant Children in Europe. Christos Giakoumopoulos, Director-General for Human Rights and Rule of Law, has highlighted in an interview piece that the action plan provides a blueprint for protecting children fleeing war, violence and persecution, concentrating on issues - like childhood statelessness - that have not yet received enough attention. He pointed out that the plan has been endorsed by all 47 Council of Europe members enabling all Member States to take responsibility for achieving its goals, including with regard to addressing statelessness.

It was also acknowledged that ENS’s #StatelessKids  and UNHCR’s #IBelong campaigns have undoubtedly played a significant rolein progressing and informing debates on key issues like childhood statelessness, and helped secure the concrete commitment included in the Action Plan. My invitation to provide expert input to the CDCJ plenary meeting in November 2017, tasked with deciding whether and how to take forward the action, and our subsequent high-profile event in the Palais of the Council of Europe in October 2018, were further useful  opportunities to support and encourage the CDCJ initiative.


ENS event ‘Addressing Statelessness in Europe’ – Palais of the Council of Europe, Strasbourg, 10 October 2018

Next steps and looking ahead to future collaboration

Looking forwards, we are delighted that Christophe Poirel, the Council of Europe’s Director for Human Rights, will provide a keynote presentation at our upcoming conference in Alicante on 7-8 May. This will be an opportunity to explore how civil society, including organisations representing people affected by statelessness, as well as other actors, can continue to support and complement activities envisaged by the Council of Europe under its CDCJ initiative. Intended to shine a light on the remaining protection gaps for stateless people in Europe, our conference is aiming to bring together around 300 participants from across Europe to identify new solutions and galvanise action. To find out how you can get involved, check out our open call for proposals (deadline 30 Jan).

Ultimately, of course, the real value and impact of the CDCJ initiative remains to be seen in its implementation and the impact that it will have on the lives of stateless people in Europe. It is certainly a very welcome step forward on an often-overlooked issue, in what is currently a challenging climate for the protection of human rights more broadly. Together with our members, we look forward to continuing our strong collaboration with the Council of Europe towards our shared vision of a Europe in which everyone can enjoy their right to a nationality.

Photo credit: Nathan Guy (Flickr, Creative Commons) and Council of Europe

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